There were several possible Ethics Alarms posts that could have come out of The Golden Globe Awards last night, the obvious one involving the continuing arts community tantrum in the wake of the election of Donald Trump over Hollywood’s sweetheart, Hillary Clinton. Meryl Streep put herself in the running for “Gratuitous Cheap Shot Of The Year ” with her acceptance speech for something or other, but I decided that in a community where Rosie O’Donnell tweets “Fuck you!” to the Speaker of the House for simply completing his duty to certify the Electoral College vote, and over the weekend tweeted, “HE MUST NEVER BE SWORN IN – DELAY INAGURATION – INVESTIGATE – ARREST HIM” as her considered analysis of the proper workings of our democracy, Streep’s shot seemed like the height of restraint.
The more interesting issue on display at the Golden Globes involves actor Casey Affleck, Batman’s brother, who won the night’s Best Actor in a Film Drama award for his performance in “Manchester by the Sea.” Last year, it was revealed that the actor had two sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him in 2010 that alleged he had groped women on the set and created a generally hostile work environment while directing the film, “I’m Still Here.” Since during the campaign Hollywood was all-in using misogyny and sexual harassment as one of the many accusations against Donald Trump, some claim that honoring Affleck undermines the community’s assumed condemnation of the Trump-like conduct he was accused of.
Complicating the matter is the conundrum surrounding Nate Parker, the previously unknown black artist who was the main creative force behind the 2016 slave-revolt film “The Birth of a Nation.” As Oscar buzz was ramping up for his film—remember that the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences is more or less obligated to find plenty of nominations and awards for African Americans, regardless of objective artistic merit— new details surfaced concerning a decades old criminal case in which Parker was accused of raping a female student while both were at Penn State. He was acquitted, but the facts were ugly, and the alleged victim committed suicide. Once that was known, all of the promise shown by “The Birth of a Nation” evaporated. Although the film was a smash at festivals, it received mixed reviews,bombed at the box office, and has been poison at the various awards so far, receiving no nominations.
The New York Times, among other media sources, has published several articles about the apparent double standard, saying most recently,
Marni Nixon died last month at 86, and I have been intending to write about her ever since. An accomplished soprano with perfect pitch and a rare gift for mimicry, Nixon secretly dubbed in the songs for Deborah Kerr as Anna in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood as Maria in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” three of the most successful and honored Hollywood adaptations of Broadway musicals. In doing so she was assisting in the perpetration of a fraud on critics and audiences, but one that had, and indeed has, some legitimate ethical arguments, and rationalizations too, to justify it. Why is using a stunt singer any more dishonest than using a stunt man? Isn’t film about making the audience accept illusions in pursuit of art? If an audience member will be more likely to enjoy a film thinking that a major star can really sing, why is it wrong to make it possible for them to believe that, at least for a while?
The reasoning would have more power if long before Marnie did her secret singing Hollywood hadn’t already made a classic musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” that pronounced the practice fraudulent. Marni Nixon was a real life Cathy Seldon, the Debbie Reynolds contract player forced to supply the singing and speaking voice for a talentless silent film superstar, Lina Lamont, whose real voice would make dogs run for refuge and men claw off their ears, and whose continued status as a money-making asset for the studio depended on making her successful in talkies.
Ironically, even “Singin’ in the Rain” engaged in the same fraud it was ridiculing. Debbie Reynolds was a competent singer, but a richer, more mature voice was needed to match the image of Jean Hagen, the terrific comic actress playing Lina. So when Debbie was shown secretly replacing Lina’s nightmarish singing voice with her own, another singer was secretly used, uncredited, to dub Debbie. Her voice fit Lina perfectly, because the voice put in Debbie’s mouth while she was supposedly putting her voice into Lina’s was the real voice of… Jean Hagen. Continue reading
In 1934, under the auspices of the New Deal’s Public Works of Art program, artist Ann Rice O’Hanlon painted a fresco (the largest ever painted by a woman up to that time) in the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall. It has become famous and is much admired by art historians, and thousands of Kentucky students have walked past it through the decades. The large, six section artwork depicts many events, industries, traditions and activities that were significant to the state, invented in Kentucky or by Kentuckians, as well as historical events. Among the scenes shown are black slaves picking tobacco and black musicians serenading whites.
Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s masterpiece became the target of choice at Kentucky as the University ‘s black students were seeking to emulate the power plays by their equivalents at the University of Missouri, Yale, Amherst, Harvard Law, Dartmouth and other institutions. The Kentucky students held a meeting with president Eli Capilouto and argued that the fresco was offensive, as it relegated black people to roles as slaves or servants, and did not portray the cruelty of slavery and the later Jim Crow culture that existed in the state. Capilouto capitulated, agreeing to move the work to “a more appropriate location.” In the meantime, Kentucky will cover up the 45-by-8-foot fresco while adding a sign explaining why the mural is obscured.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this:
Should a university remove works of art on campus because particular groups of students or individual members of such groups find the artwork upsetting, offensive, or a negative influence on their experience?
A statue in the middle of the campus of Saint Louis University, a private Jesuit institution, depicted famous Jesuit missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet S.J. praying over two Native Americans dressed in traditional clothing. There had been increasingly intense demands from some faculty and student activists to remove the statue. Summarizing the objections, a student editorial recently argued that the statue sent an unacceptable message to Native Americans and others that
“You do not belong here if you do not submit to our culture and our religion…The statue of De Smet depicts a history of colonialism, imperialism, racism and of Christian and white supremacy.”
[ The editorial also said that “As the protests surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner have shown us, just because racist policies are off the books doesn’t mean that racism is no longer practiced.” I am trying not to allow that fatuous, counter-factual and ignorant statement cause me to regard the writer and his piece as unworthy of serious consideration.]
Naturally, as is almost always the case, the spineless, path-of-least-resistance driven administrators at the university capitulated, and moved the statue into some museum. Note that this is a Jesuit university, and teaching is one of the primary things that the Jesuit order does.
De Smet was a remarkable individual who, far from imposing his beliefs on Native Americans, began his obsession with starting far West missions for the native tribes in the U.S. after the Salish and the neighboring Nez Perce sent four delegations to St. Louis, where he was stationed, to find a “black robe” to live among them. Continue reading
Ethics Alarms participant Other Bill raised “Piss Christ” on the comment thread to my post about the Garland, Texas attack, progressives’ and news media’s “hate speech isn’t free speech” confusion, and Geller’s supporters’ “gratuitously uncivil speech is laudable” delusion. He posted a column by George Parry, published under the heading “Think Tank” on a Philadelphia site. I’m grateful to Bill for raising the column, which he neither endorsed nor criticized. Titled Double Standard on Offending Christians and Muslims, Parry’s argument was…
- “Christians objected to “Piss Christ” and the feces-covered Holy Virgin. And they rightfully wondered why their tax dollars had been used to promote these blasphemies. But their objections and questions were condescendingly dismissed by the secular left in the media and intelligentsia. …
- “As if in one voice, the mainstream media and self-anointed intelligentsia argued that antiquated religious sensitivities must not be allowed to interfere with either an artist’s free expression or his right to government funding regardless of how offensive his work may be to Christians….”
- “In Garland, Texas, on Sunday, two radical Muslims died trying to replicate the Charlie Hebdo massacre by mounting an armed attack on a “draw Mohammed” cartoon contest. We are not talking about drawings of Mohammed dunked in urine or smeared with animal dung. No, the gunmen apparently deemed the mere drawing of Mohammed to be an offense punishable by death…The overall media consensus has been to blame the intended murder victims for recklessly provoking the terrorists. Such provocation, we are told, is unacceptable and irresponsible behavior given the risk of retaliation by offended radical Muslims…”
- “Better to question the wisdom of cartoonists exercising their rights than to acknowledge and vigorously confront and expose the elephant in the room, i.e., that there is a disturbingly large number of radical Muslims in this country who oppose our Constitution and who believe that murder is an appropriate sanction for those who offend Islam….”
“All of which leads to this question: Given their pusillanimous double standard, why should any reasonable or serious person believe, respect, or credit the self-serving mainstream media?”
That’s not the question. First of all, there is already no reason to believe, respect, or credit the mainstream media. Second, while Parry is correct that the analysis of the issues in the Garland attack have been largely incompetent and tainted by media dislike of Geller and journalism’s own cowardice (most news outlets were afraid to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, even though they were essential to reporting on the Paris massacre), his analogy with “Piss Christ” is no better.
The questions are… Continue reading